Direct action makes history

A recent Occupy Wall Street spokes council meeting

A central part of our organising practice at Recomposition is direct action. In this piece our comrade Marianne addresses criticisms of Occupy Wall Street and the importance placed in that movement on a direct action strategy.

The following is not a commentary on, much less a defense of, David Graeber – with whom I disagree. It is a critique of key facets of the ideology of Andrew Kliman. In a recent article, Andrew Kliman attempted to critique “the ideology” of David Graeber, in particular its emphasis on direct action, without condemning the Occupy Wall Street movement in which Graeber’s ideas and strategy have found so much resonance. All that Kliman accomplished, however, was revealing his profound misunderstanding of the significance of both OWS and of direct action – a misunderstanding that can be traced to his deeply apolitical take on Marxism. He tips his hand early on:

As Marx put it in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already.” I’ve always thought that this is a rather trivial observation, because it’s so obvious.

Rather, this could be the most pregnant phrase in all of Marx, and working out what it means, on a practical level, could be the most important thing at stake with respect to his legacy. The ambiguity of it formed the basis of the dispute between Luxemburg and Lenin, between Trotskyism and the “ultra left,” between Maoism and its opponents, and between revolution and reformism. But Kliman isn’t really interested in all of that, because he isn’t interested in politics. He believes world history will accomplish itself.

Let me explain by looking at what he says about direct action.

How many direct-action anarchists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: None. They just sit in the dark and act as if the light bulb didn’t burn out.

This joke illustrates the depths of Kliman’s misunderstanding (why aren’t the anarchists changing the light bulb?). Kliman fails to apprehend two main things about direct action: that it “gets the goods,” and, equally importantly, that it builds a movement. It does so insofar as it empowers people and makes them feel solidarity with one other. It takes people from not seeing themselves as political agents to feeling themselves as political agents, by giving them real experience in acting alongside others. After all, politics is about what human beings can accomplish together, and direct action just is the deployment of collective strength.

What doesn’t build a movement, on the other hand, is feeding people an analysis of capitalism, no matter how razor-sharp. Simply describing to people the problems they face, in a systematic way, actually makes them retreat even further into inaction, especially if you describe those problems as a plenum in which there is no room for meaningful resistance, which Kliman all but does in his piece. Most people don’t like “talking about politics” because they see it as fruitless and depressing, and they see no connection between what happens out there in the world of power, and what they can make happen in their own everyday lives. They see themselves, in Kliman’s phrasing, as already having lost.

But OWS has grown as rapidly as it has because it has provided people with an arena in which to jump right in and start acting politically: not just a forum in which to discuss what is wrong with the current political and economic system, but a jumping-off point for participating in all kinds of meaningful political activities: shutting down foreclosure auctions, building independent media, picketing in support of Sotheby’s workers, learning how to facilitate meetings. It has done more to build a movement than something like the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, on behalf of whom Kliman writes, ever has (other things that don’t build a movement? signing people on to a mailing list, inviting them to a public talk, or handing them a newsletter).

Kliman attacks a straw man when he reduces direct action to a lifestylist opting-out of capitalism (“rural communes”), and contrasts that with the sit-down strikes that created the CIO. Of course, the irony is that those sit-down strikes are a quintessential form of direct action. There is even an entire literature (Stan Weir, Martin Glaberman, Staughton Lynd) celebrating such direct-action methods in contrast to the practices of business unionism, namely contract negotiation and grievance arbitration. These authors argue that direct action tactics on the job are not only far more successful, but they simultaneously embolden and train the working class to run production by themselves, for themselves, which is precisely what most envision would happen within socialism. Direct action unionism amounts to the working class developing and exercising their own political power, their power of acting in concert, rather than delegating that to someone else.

So, how does Kliman’s view of direct action relate to his dismissal of Marx’s dictum about the making of history? Shortly after favourably citing these sit-down strikes, Kliman smugly points out that OWS never actually occupied Wall Street. But considering that he is ridiculing Graeber for not understanding the real functioning of political economy, this seems like an especially inane charge: what would physically occupying the New York Stock Exchange have accomplished, in an era in which financial transactions are global and electronic? To consider that actually occupying Wall Street would have made the movement a success is to fall prey to precisely the idea that human beings make history just as they please. It betrays a deep ignorance of the fact that even revolutionary tactics still have to abide by what is possible, and there is simply no way that a group of young, disaffected outsiders could have shut down the stock market, especially in a city with such a massive police presence. These are entirely different circumstances than workers shutting down their own workplace by refusing to operate the assembly line.

Kliman equally fails to understand that human beings – and only human beings – make history. Revolutions – yes, even those that are world-historical – require people to actually carry them out. But that takes not only courage and the right revolutionary inspiration. It takes a certain political practice, one that involves solidarity and training in concrete skills like collective decision-making and the delegation of tasks so that an action can be carried out by a group. This is the very kind of political practice that is being honed, even if imperfectly, in OWS working groups.

OWS may not yet be in a position to overthrow capital, but it has managed to build a mass political movement where not even the glimmer of such a thing existed before, and it has done so precisely by providing a space of meaningful and empowering political activity. Kliman neglects this because politics has no significance to him – perhaps nothing does, other than the Final Revolutionary Moment. To him, Marx’s phrase about making history seems “trivial.” He, along with every other “interpreter” of Marx who fails to apprehend the political dimension of the latter’s writings, is guilty of precisely the kind of pathetic and dangerous idealism that Marx warned against, most perniciously the belief that history itself has agency. It doesn’t.

Originally posted: May 15, 2012 at Recomposition

Posted By

Recomposition
May 15 2012 22:34

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  • OWS may not yet be in a position to overthrow capital, but it has managed to build a mass political movement where not even the glimmer of such a thing existed before, and it has done so precisely by providing a space of meaningful and empowering political activity.

    Marianne, Recomposition

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Comments

Dunk
May 16 2012 09:50

For all this defense of the power of free will (I've noticed a lot of people have been using "agency" in the same sense as free will), the evangelical cadre of radicals seeking to preach this liberal social reform movement into revolutionary praxis doesn't seem to have any idea that capitalism is a mode of production which can only be overthrown by a new mode of production which sweeps it aside. Which is to say, sleeping in a park, obstructing foreclosures, taking over empty buildings, even discussing revolution in a what one may argue is a proto-worker council - in the form of the General Assemblies and the various international assemblies of the squares - is not revolution. Even if it's presented as some kind of pre-revolutionary activity, pre-revolutionary activity does not alter our conditions.

If consciousness arises from material conditions it is impossible for a communist consciousness to arise until new material conditions are created, and they can't be, until new production relations replace the current.

Right now, people just want more. If they wanted revolution, the conditions would exist that would compel the working class to revolt - and we would recognize these conditions because workers would be controlling production. Instead, they want more freedom - from oppression and distress, they want more justice, they want more money.

What is the purpose of this critique of a critique? Is it to deflect the discouragement of the radical evangelical cadre? You can't. They'll become exhausted and drop out, inevitably. There isn't anything you can do to stop it. Remember that I said this as you see it happen.

tastybrain
May 16 2012 14:42

Yes comrade, the material conditions are not yet ripe! Go back to doing nothing until the Marxist party needs you roll eyes

Nate
May 16 2012 15:35
Dunk wrote:
capitalism is a mode of production which can only be overthrown by a new mode of production which sweeps it aside (...) If consciousness arises from material conditions it is impossible for a communist consciousness to arise until new material conditions are created, and they can't be, until new production relations replace the current.

I don't think that makes sense and I think it's a mistake to reduce consciousness to an effect that results from 'material conditions' or 'production relations'. (I can't really tell what you mean by those terms, by the way.) If consciousness results from production and can only change after production changes then how does production change? Does consciousness play any role in changes in production? If so, then it seems to me your point dissolves (because in that case consciousness really can play a role in changing material conditions/production relations). If not, then how do production relations change? (I'd prefer an answer that looked at the history of actual changes in production rather than speculation about future change, but either way, I'd like to hear your thoughts.)

Edit: Also, not sure I understand your point about free will. Are you saying you think we're free but our free will is not going to change the mode of production? Or are you saying that we don't have free will at all?

Khawaga
May 16 2012 16:04
Quote:
If consciousness arises from material conditions it is impossible for a communist consciousness to arise until new material conditions are created, and they can't be, until new production relations replace the current.

What horrible mechanistic, reductionist base-superstructure crap.

tastybrain
May 16 2012 16:34
Quote:
Even if it's presented as some kind of pre-revolutionary activity, pre-revolutionary activity does not alter our conditions.

If consciousness arises from material conditions it is impossible for a communist consciousness to arise until new material conditions are created, and they can't be, until new production relations replace the current.

Right now, people just want more. If they wanted revolution, the conditions would exist that would compel the working class to revolt - and we would recognize these conditions because workers would be controlling production. Instead, they want more freedom - from oppression and distress, they want more justice, they want more money.

Dude/dudette do you actually believe this? If I believed it I wouldn't give a fuck about politics and would just hang out and smoke weed my whole life.

I'm sorry, but this is deterministic nonsense (IMO) dredged up from decades ago. Do you really see "material conditions" as being independent from what people do and think (i.e. "consciousness" and "pre-revolutionary activity")? Are you seriously saying communist consciousness can't arise until new production relations arise? So no one can be a revolutionary until after the revolution??

"Pre-revolutionary activity" doesn't alter our conditions? Tell that to all the workers in history and in the present who have fought for and won concessions from capitalism. Maybe a living wage, public water supply, healthcare for all, etc fall short of total communist revolution, but they sure as shit "alter conditions".

Your ideas are an outdated formula for defeat and passivity. I suppose this is needed to create a passive mass of good party members convinced that they themselves can do nothing to alter conditions who will wait obediently for "history" (as interpreted by the party leaders and intellectuals of course) to dictate the right time for action, as well as what form it will take.

Quote:
If they wanted revolution, the conditions would exist that would compel the working class to revolt - and we would recognize these conditions because workers would be controlling production.

This is beautiful. If people wanted revolution, the conditions would have compelled revolution, and we would know because workers would be controlling production. I couldn't make that shit up.

Why even talk about consciousness at all? Clearly it doesn't even factor into your politics. Why talk about communist consciousness when conditions will simply compel a communist revolution?

Dunk
May 16 2012 17:03

Material conditions are the social and economic conditions of our society that are created by capitalism. Production relations is a more specific term meant to imply that there are particular social relations required for capitalist production.

Production can only change when capitalism creates the conditions that compel the revolutionary subject to create a new mode of production. Could the artisans and merchants create a republic out of sheer will in feudal times, or were they the agents of rapidly changing material conditions, especially during the Industrial Revolution?

I claim that agency is different from free will, and that I seriously doubt the existence of free will.

To the dude that said if he believed what I believed, he'd smoke weed all day long and relax; why don't you?

Dunk
May 16 2012 17:26
tastybrain wrote:
Dude/dudette do you actually believe this? If I believed it I wouldn't give a fuck about politics and would just hang out and smoke weed my whole life.

I'm sorry, but this is deterministic nonsense (IMO) dredged up from decades ago. Do you really see "material conditions" as being independent from what people do and think (i.e. "consciousness" and "pre-revolutionary activity")? Are you seriously saying communist consciousness can't arise until new production relations arise? So no one can be a revolutionary until after the revolution??

"Pre-revolutionary activity" doesn't alter our conditions? Tell that to all the workers in history and in the present who have fought for and won concessions from capitalism. Maybe a living wage, public water supply, healthcare for all, etc fall short of total communist revolution, but they sure as shit "alter conditions".

Don't you see that all these concessions from the capitalist class are just incremental concessions to the interests of the working class? Interests which preclude the explicit intention to overthrow our conditions? Yeah, universal health care is better than nothing. It's also unsurprising I get people rushing to the defense of reformism when I start offering explanations as to why revolution hasn't occurred.

tastybrain wrote:
Your ideas are an outdated formula for defeat and passivity. I suppose this is needed to create a passive mass of good party members convinced that they themselves can do nothing to alter conditions who will wait obediently for "history" (as interpreted by the party leaders and intellectuals of course) to dictate the right time for action, as well as what form it will take.

Oh, I see, now I'm some "authoritarian" trying to subvert the mystical revolutionary spirit you and your evangelical cadre are trying to engender, because I conspiratorially just want capitalism with red flags and party bosses, instead of real communism.

If you want to pour effort into trying to engender a revolutionary will in the revolutionary subject, by all means, do it. I'm not going to, because it's a waste of time.

tastybrain wrote:
This is beautiful. If people wanted revolution, the conditions would have compelled revolution, and we would know because workers would be controlling production. I couldn't make that shit up.

Why even talk about consciousness at all? Clearly it doesn't even factor into your politics. Why talk about communist consciousness when conditions will simply compel a communist revolution?

You're right, this discussion is ultimately pointless. But I don't have anybody to talk to about this stuff, and only communists and anarchists can understand fellow communists and anarchists.

Rob Ray
May 16 2012 17:30

I'm guessing Dunk is a burnout who feels just guilty enough about not getting back into things to need to persuade himself that there's no point. Thus his need to reinforce his shaky logic by showing up on a libertarian communist forum and doing his best impression of a wet blanket, rather than having the courage of his convictions and getting on with life entirely sans politics "until the time is right."

Edit:

Quote:
I don't have anybody to talk to about this stuff

I wonder why...

Dunk
May 16 2012 17:37

It's possible you're right, and it's also possible I'm right at the same time.

Do you think I'm insufferable, or do you think I don't have anybody to talk to about this stuff because there are no radicals here in this Midwest town? Or both?

tastybrain
May 16 2012 17:37
Dunk wrote:
Material conditions are the social and economic conditions of our society that are created by capitalism. Production relations is a more specific term meant to imply that there are particular social relations required for capitalist production.

Production can only change when capitalism creates the conditions that compel the revolutionary subject to create a new mode of production. Could the artisans and merchants create a republic out of sheer will in feudal times, or were they the agents of rapidly changing material conditions, especially during the Industrial Revolution?

I claim that agency is different from free will, and that I seriously doubt the existence of free will.

To the dude that said if he believed what I believed, he'd smoke weed all day long and relax; why don't you?

I didn't claim that you can have a revolution purely through "sheer will". I do, however, think that revolution will come about because of a combination of material conditions and the consciousness and will of revolutionaries. Counting on one element in the absence of the other is silly.

The artisans and merchants that brought about republics did so because of their own will and consciousness in a material context, not because they were simply "compelled to" by conditions. Nothing happens "automatically". Determinism, teleological thinking, and mechanistic conceptions of social movements/revolutions are the worst aspects of the Marxist tradition. I suggest you drop them.

I have heard several arguments against free will, none of which have struck me as particularly compelling. The main one was certainly logically sound, but very much irrelevant to my life or anyone else's who isn't an angsty philosophy student. If there is no such thing as free will, what exactly is the point of criticizing the "evangelical radical cadre" or whatever? Surely your superior consciousness will have no effect on our practice, given that consciousness does nothing and only a change in material conditions can change anything.

As for the weed comment: I was being facetious, even if I wasn't into politics I don't have the money to just hang out and blaze all the time. My point was that your attitude seems like a great reason not to do anything political, since "pre revolutionary activity" apparently does nothing (a point you have yet to defend). Do you do anything political IRL, or is Marxism just like your hobby or something? Anyway, have fun waiting for the objective conditions to swing our way and the revolution to just spontaneously happen.

Dunk
May 16 2012 17:56
tastybrain wrote:
As for the weed comment: I was being facetious, even if I wasn't into politics I don't have the money to just hang out and blaze all the time. My point was that your attitude seems like a great reason not to do anything political, since "pre revolutionary activity" apparently does nothing (a point you have yet to defend). Do you do anything political IRL, or is Marxism just like your hobby or something? Anyway, have fun waiting for the objective conditions to swing our way and the revolution to just spontaneously happen.

Yeah, I don't have the money for it, either. Also my girlfriend would probably get really pissed off I started smoking again.

I don't do anything political anymore. I did once. I tried to get an Occupation started in my town. When that didn't work, I went to Cleveland to participate there. But I've been really disillusioned with it all, since it was initially worrisome that it was a social reform movement, and that I think our collective failure on the revolutionary left to succeed in engendering consciousness, when so many believed in the wake of crisis it was ripe for spreading, has led me to seriously reexamine consciousness or the prospect of building consciousness as a concept. I don't think it's possible to spread it that way, and yeah, I'm tired of failing to do so - I am a burn out - but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

888
May 16 2012 19:57
Dunk wrote:
I claim that agency is different from free will, and that I seriously doubt the existence of free will.

If free will doesn't exist, how does that affect how you go about your life? The existence of free will is a non-question since (knowledge of) whether it exists or not has no impact on anyone's behaviour.

Nate
May 16 2012 18:46
Dunk wrote:
Material conditions are the social and economic conditions of our society that are created by capitalism. Production relations is a more specific term meant to imply that there are particular social relations required for capitalist production.

Production can only change when capitalism creates the conditions that compel the revolutionary subject to create a new mode of production. Could the artisans and merchants create a republic out of sheer will in feudal times, or were they the agents of rapidly changing material conditions, especially during the Industrial Revolution?

I claim that agency is different from free will, and that I seriously doubt the existence of free will.

Dunk, I thought some of these people were being overly harsh on you before I saw that you're a fellow midwesterner and now that goes double.... I think that free will doesn't really make sense, as in it's pretty mystifying, but assuming free will makes a lot of other things make sense, and I think over all there's even more stuff that doesn't make sense if we reject free will.

That aside, I'm more interested in the stuff on social/economic conditions and productive relations and consciousness. I don't mean this disrespectfully but I don't think this perspective you're laying out makes sense. I think if you try to give an account of actual changes in the history of capitalism using your categories and ideas here - where production changes in some without consciousness and politics and consciousness follow after - it won't work and you'll start to see the limits of those ideas. Again I don't mean that disrespectfully, give it a shot and see what happens (and if I'm wrong, you'll be able to show that).

tastybrain
May 16 2012 18:58
Dunk wrote:
Tastybrain wrote:
"Pre-revolutionary activity" doesn't alter our conditions? Tell that to all the workers in history and in the present who have fought for and won concessions from capitalism. Maybe a living wage, public water supply, healthcare for all, etc fall short of total communist revolution, but they sure as shit "alter conditions".

Don't you see that all these concessions from the capitalist class are just incremental concessions to the interests of the working class? Interests which preclude the explicit intention to overthrow our conditions? Yeah, universal health care is better than nothing. It's also unsurprising I get people rushing to the defense of reformism when I start offering explanations as to why revolution hasn't occurred.

I'm not defending reformism. Reformism is a political ideology that makes reforms the ultimate goal and works "in the system" to bring them about. A movement can fight for reforms through direct action and still be revolutionary, IMO. Just look at the strikes for the 8 hour day in 1886.

I feel like you've fallen into one of the classic failures of the Left, what might be called "the worse the better"ism. The existence of terrible conditions for working people does not guarantee revolution, just as relatively good conditions do not guarantee complacency. Good conditions for the working class do not "preclude" revolution, they can just as easily provoke it by raising expectations and standards to a level capitalism cannot or will not sustain. (Look at May 68; the Parisian workers were probably better off materially then than they are now, but they were far more combatative.) This tendency to condemn and excoriate everything short of Full Communism as "reformism" is one of the most idiotic tendencies on the Left. Plus, come on dude, really? Without this "reformism" peeps like you and me wouldn't even have the weekend to look forward to.

Dunk wrote:
tastybrain wrote:
Your ideas are an outdated formula for defeat and passivity. I suppose this is needed to create a passive mass of good party members convinced that they themselves can do nothing to alter conditions who will wait obediently for "history" (as interpreted by the party leaders and intellectuals of course) to dictate the right time for action, as well as what form it will take.

Oh, I see, now I'm some "authoritarian" trying to subvert the mystical revolutionary spirit you and your evangelical cadre are trying to engender, because I conspiratorially just want capitalism with red flags and party bosses, instead of real communism.

If you want to pour effort into trying to engender a revolutionary will in the revolutionary subject, by all means, do it. I'm not going to, because it's a waste of time.

Ok. You may think it's a waste of time. The "revolutionary subject" does not simply become (subjectively) revolutionary by itself. Some within the class will have more class consciousness than others, and it is vital that those with this consciousness reach out and try to sway others to accelerate the transformation of the class into an actually, rather than theoretically, revolutionary subject. I think if you look at most sustained revolutionary class struggle social movements, their existence can be credited not solely to material conditions but also to long-term agitation and consciousness-raising by isolated sects of militants. The voluntaristic activism of revolutionary minorities almost always plays a role in fomenting revolts.

I didn't mean to call you an authoritarian, but the viewpoints you express have been used for authoritarian means in the past. When consciousness is nothing and material conditions are everything, it's pretty easy to persuade others to wait for material conditions rather than develop their own consciousness and self activity. And who decides when conditions are ripe and what the conditions dictate? Usually its party leaders and intellectuals who are reading the entrails, so to speak.

Dunk wrote:
I don't do anything political anymore. I did once. I tried to get an Occupation started in my town. When that didn't work, I went to Cleveland to participate there. But I've been really disillusioned with it all, since it was initially worrisome that it was a social reform movement, and that I think our collective failure on the revolutionary left to succeed in engendering consciousness, when so many believed in the wake of crisis it was ripe for spreading, has led me to seriously reexamine consciousness or the prospect of building consciousness as a concept. I don't think it's possible to spread it that way, and yeah, I'm tired of failing to do so - I am a burn out - but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

Look, that's all fine. I totally understand being frustrated about politics and pro-revolutionary activity. I get really frustrated about this stuff too.

What I don't understand is why you feel the need to shit on the activities of others who haven't given up and who aren't burnt out.

It really seems like this new-found (and apparently very recently developed) defeatist position of yours is coming from a place of despair, not from one of logical analysis. Again, I totally understand the frustration you're feeling, but it doesn't mean you have a real argument to back it up. Revolts don't happen purely spontaneously and are not dictated mechanistically by material conditions. Consciousness plays a role alongside material conditions. I think the historical record confirms this.

If you're so frustrated with politics, why not just take some time away from it to simply live your life? If you really think it's all pointless and meaningless, why snipe from the sidelines (unless that's how you get your kicks I guess)? Also, there are many other ways to participate in politics and pro-revolutionary organizing besides Occupy related stuff. I've only been to, like, 2 or 3 GAs and they were frustrating as fuck. There are other things you can do; don't let a couple of negative experiences embitter you to an entire movement (the "evangelical cadre" if you like). No one said this was going to be easy, you can't expect Occupy to turn into a super-militant movement overnight.

andcetera
May 16 2012 19:20

Dunk, what interests me about good, empowering forms of struggle (and I see a lot of writing about this on Recomposition, for example), is that they sort of transcend the reform/revolution quandary. Even if all we were aiming for was reform, still the only way of reliably bringing that about is to force power's hand, which requires an empowered and well-organized working class (or student body, etc.). If, on the other hand, we are ultimately trying to bring about a revolution, the only way that will happen is with an empowered and well-organized working class (students, the unemployed, etc.).

The only question then is, which forms of struggle are empowering and effective, and which aren't?

Dunk
May 16 2012 21:32

I accept the criticism so far leveled at me. It's true; I am burnt out, I am frustrated, I constantly feel a sense of despair - at least when it comes to politics, and it's from this sense of despair that I'm reasoning this way about consciousness. I don't accept the idea that just because I am burnt out, that I'm wrong about consciousness and the brutally mechanistic way capitalism could be overthrown - in the sense that it can only be swept aside by a new mode of production which takes its place. Maybe I am wrong, but I don't think so. I hope I'm wrong. I say something to you all about it in the hopes that it might save someone some time, effort, money, and pain. Then again, this is a kind of the evangelism I think is useless, but I never claimed I was 100% consistent. I think there is no reason for such optimism and idealism other than to keep yourself going, because you think you're building toward consciousness, building toward revolution, when despite the consistent efforts of others of the pro-revolutionary milieu in the past and present, political consciousness waxes and wanes - but the expressed interest of the working class has never changed as long as it has existed, which is "more." Even when in particular regions and times there has been a working class which has had the explicit desire to overthrow capitalism, they have failed. I think they failed because capitalism hasn't created the conditions for revolution.

I'm sorry if I have inadvertently insulted anyone, I probably shouldn't have been so aggressive. I know many of you have made your points and disagreed, I'm now beginning to reiterate things I've already said. I'm trying to remind myself that my critique is, according to the same logic, just as pointless as what I'm criticizing. So I think it's time for me to stop posting in this response section before I upset anyone else.

Chilli Sauce
May 17 2012 10:41

On the original blog, I think it's ace.

Quote:
I'm guessing Dunk is a burnout who feels just guilty enough about not getting back into things to need to persuade himself that there's no point. Thus his need to reinforce his shaky logic by showing up on a libertarian communist forum and doing his best impression of a wet blanket, rather than having the courage of his convictions and getting on with life entirely sans politics "until the time is right."

Sounds like a perfect candidate for NihCom to me... [/couldn't resist, probably should have]

Nate
May 17 2012 17:29

FWIW personally smoking all day is what I plan to do after capitalism ends, with just a bit of critical criticism in the evenings.

tastybrain
May 17 2012 18:24
Nate wrote:
FWIW personally smoking all day is what I plan to do after capitalism ends, with just a bit of critical criticism in the evenings.

cool We should chill

tastybrain
May 17 2012 18:26
Chilli Sauce wrote:
On the original blog, I think it's ace.
Quote:
I'm guessing Dunk is a burnout who feels just guilty enough about not getting back into things to need to persuade himself that there's no point. Thus his need to reinforce his shaky logic by showing up on a libertarian communist forum and doing his best impression of a wet blanket, rather than having the courage of his convictions and getting on with life entirely sans politics "until the time is right."

Sounds like a perfect candidate for NihCom to me... [/couldn't resist, probably should have]

I actually think the comparison is spot on. But Dunk is at least being honest about his position partially emerging from a place of despair. NiCom adherents construct incredibly elaborate theoretical justifications for their own inactivity and why they slag off active pro-revolutionaries.

D. Caffey
May 18 2012 01:57

I just wanted to bring some discussion back to Marianne's piece. It's surprisingly bad. In the comments appended to Kliman's recent piece she links to at the beginning, I said her work is a confused misunderstanding struggling to synthesize unfounded accusations into a critique of Kliman. I'll now back that up:

First, it is a confused misunderstanding. A normal misunderstanding would be one that missed the point in a consistent way. The piece is a confused misunderstanding because its mistakes pull in opposed directions.

The first direction is in something like the claim that Kliman is blind to his commitments. Marianne writes "the irony is that those sit-down strikes are a quintessential form of direct action." So the claim is that Kliman is, despite not knowing it, actually in favor of what he criticizes. According to Marianne, Kliman, despite attacking direct-action, actually does like it. This is mistaken because Kliman explicitly calls the sit-down strikes direct action ("I think that's pretty direct action") in his praise of them. So, far from being blind to his commitments regarding action, Kliman recognizes them straightforwardly. The opposing direction in which she gets things wrong is thinking that Kliman is only committed to sit-down (versions of direct-action). She criticizes this as ineffective in shutting down international capital, but does so due to the false supposition that Kliman's notion of direct action is ridiculously narrow. This misunderstanding is opposed to the first - which meant to ascribe further commitments than Kliman supposedly intends - because it ascribes lesser commitments than Kliman accepts, namely the commitment that is clear from his critique of Graeber: our actions ought to be grounded in theory that grasps both objective conditions and likely standards for success.

Marianne doesn't just get one thing wrong and thereby invert Kliman's position, she gets two things perfectly wrong, and by the alchemy of double negation comes close to mistaking Kliman's own position for criticism of it.

Second, her accusations are unfounded. I may be missing a few, but there seem to be 5 of them. Here they are with brief arguments for their unfoundedness:

1. Kliman doesn't understand the significance of OWS and direct action. The direct action part is already shown to be unfounded, although I'll admit Kliman and Marianne likely think d.a. is significant for divergent reasons. My guess is that Kliman doesn't believe, while Marianne seems to, that direct action itself is inherently valuable. At any rate, the OWS part of the claim is unfounded insofar as one believes Kliman isn't lying when he says at the beginning that he supports the Occupy movement and that one of its "greatest strength[s]... is the fact that tens of thousands of people have brought to parts of it their own hopes and aspirations".

2. He attacks a straw version of D.A. by reducing it to lifestylist opting-out. He does no such thing. He shows that there is a range of forms of direct action. They can include hippie communes, well-digging, factory sit-down strikes, and occupations of city spaces. The thought that Kliman is opposed to direct action tout-court is absurd as I've shown above.

3. His Marxism is a-political. This is merely a claim. It is repeated, but never substantiated. Unless you think, like Marianne seems to, that the only form of politics is direct-action, and Kliman is opposed to direct-action tout court, then she has not provided a shred of support. If you read Kliman's piece, you'll see the line before his approving recollection of the line from the 18 Brumaire on history, is "We have to struggle despite having lost the battle, and in full recognition that we’ve lost the battle rather than by pretending that we can freely choose the terms of struggle and the conditions under which we struggle." That sounds political to me.

4. He believes world-history is accomplished by itself (not humans). Again, a claim made in slightly different form a few time, but never demonstrated. The same quoted line above includes a "we" as the subject of the struggle. Like most Marxists, Kliman probably thinks only the struggle of the masses will overcome capitalism. How Marianne could get to the claim given Kliman's insistence on the central relevance of the line from the 18th Brumaire, which it will be remembered begins with "Human beings make their own history" shows the particular maliciousness of this accusation.

5. He is ignorant of the fact that revolutionary tactics must abide by what is possible. This claim is unfounded given Kliman firm insistence on the very next lines of the 18th Brumaire. I don't want to be pedantic and quote it again, but the same problem described in 4 apply here in 5 too. Anyway, the accusation is even less well grounded given the whole reason Kliman is criticizing Graeber is to show the absolute necessity of having a firm theoretical grasp of what is possible.

Third and finally, I said Marianne's work struggles to synthesize a critique. Since this is already long, I'll just show one additional example (although the previous should go a long way in grounding the claim). Her third to last paragraph begins "So, how does Kliman’s view of direct action relate to his dismissal of Marx’s dictum about the making of history?" Now, this seems promising. I thought I was going to begin to get something more internally consistent, or at least more grounded in the piece ostensibly criticized. But in the remaining time and space she never responds to this question. Marianne can't because, to be perfectly honest about it, I don't think she took the time or consideration necessary to develop an intelligent critique.

Juan Conatz
May 18 2012 03:13

Jeez, show a minuscule, irrelevant Marxist sect some attention and out come the essays.

andcetera
May 18 2012 03:37

Marianne here. Let me try to clarify my original intention behind writing the piece that I did.

When a political movement breaks out (and OWS is one), there are those who lick their finger, stick it in the air, and say "Nah. Not revolutionary enough." On the other hand, there are those who join it, with all its flaws, inconsistencies, frustrations and weirdos, and attempt to use its momentum to achieve something.

The latter type of person is interested in really practical conversations about how to be effective in the struggle (what forms of workplace organization? what model of student resistance?), as well as meaningful debates about how to understand what we're up against (for that matter, I think Recomposition is unparalleled as a resource). In my experience, the level of analysis on both counts develops fairly quickly, as people learn directly from their own experience. To paraphrase Rosa Luxemburg, the struggle is the school.

Obviously, I take myself to be one of the latter types. And so, I am interested in the latter types of conversations. Regardless of the accuracy of Kliman's depiction of Graeber, my depiction of Kliman, or my critics' depiction of me, the only thing that really matters is strategizing to develop OWS, and all of its offshoots, into a sustainable and effective movement.

nimblelibcomm
May 28 2012 19:29

How can we motivate Occupy to embrace direct action with specific goals? For example, identify corporations responsible for funding the bailing out the people and creating a network of city and regional based Occupys operating in coordination to make sure that the funds go to things like keeping the lights on in Detroit. Or that people in neighborhoods where there won't be streetlights are given homes previously owned by banksters, etc.

888
Nov 19 2012 19:29
Dunk wrote:
For all this defense of the power of free will (I've noticed a lot of people have been using "agency" in the same sense as free will), the evangelical cadre of radicals seeking to preach this liberal social reform movement into revolutionary praxis doesn't seem to have any idea that capitalism is a mode of production which can only be overthrown by a new mode of production which sweeps it aside. Which is to say, sleeping in a park, obstructing foreclosures, taking over empty buildings, even discussing revolution in a what one may argue is a proto-worker council - in the form of the General Assemblies and the various international assemblies of the squares - is not revolution. Even if it's presented as some kind of pre-revolutionary activity, pre-revolutionary activity does not alter our conditions.

If consciousness arises from material conditions it is impossible for a communist consciousness to arise until new material conditions are created, and they can't be, until new production relations replace the current.

Right now, people just want more. If they wanted revolution, the conditions would exist that would compel the working class to revolt - and we would recognize these conditions because workers would be controlling production. Instead, they want more freedom - from oppression and distress, they want more justice, they want more money.

What is the purpose of this critique of a critique? Is it to deflect the discouragement of the radical evangelical cadre? You can't. They'll become exhausted and drop out, inevitably. There isn't anything you can do to stop it. Remember that I said this as you see it happen.

leave your determinist useless theoretical wanking comments in your pocket!

888
Nov 21 2012 02:03
Dunk wrote:
capitalism is a mode of production which can only be overthrown by a new mode of production which sweeps it aside.

...

If consciousness arises from material conditions it is impossible for a communist consciousness to arise until new material conditions are created, and they can't be, until new production relations replace the current.

Clearly the best strategy is for all "pro-revolutionaries" to become scientists and engineers in order to bring the new mode of production into being.